by Alan Yudman
Bo Burnham became famous making YouTube videos, so it makes sense that is the plot device around which his first movie, EIGHTH GRADE, is centered.
Kayla is in eighth grade. She is at the end of eighth grade and getting ready for the completely new experience of high school. She is not quite average. She is just kind of moving through school. Not many friends. Not popular, but not unpopular. She is one of those kids who is kind of wallpaper or furniture, People move around her but don’t really notice her. The one thing she does to set her apart is that she makes advice videos on YouTube (now you see the Burnham connection). Much like her, no one notices them. They have almost no viewers.
And that is kind of what the movie is about. Kayla wants to be more, but isn’t. She is not especially happy and wants to be cool, but it just isn’t in her cards. She gets invited to one party, only because the girl’s Mom wants to hook up with Kayla’s good looking single dad. It’s a pool party and Kayla shows up and walks through the crowd being ignored. It’s kind of a brilliantly shot scene. Burnham follows her from the back and all you can see is her slumped shoulders moving through the party. She wants to be noticed, but her body language says otherwise.
The genius of the film is in how average Kayla is. She thinks she isn’t, but she is just an average, anxious teenager. Brunham and Elise Fisher (Kayla) are in some kind of perfect symbiosis. The videos are ostensibly for others, but really act as Kayla working out her problems out loud.
Burnham’s script captures the oeuvre of being a teenager more perfectly than any movie I can think of outside of a John Hughes movie. EIGHTH GRADE special movie by a very talented storyteller. Should be one of the best movies of the year, ya know, it ya want… or not. Whatever.